Seattle Life in the Yard

Sustain biodiversity: garden with native plants.

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Invasive New Bug

Sharon J. Collman (WSU Snohomish County Extension) has posted information about a little red invasive beetle and I thought some of you might be interested in keeping a look out for it. It was found & identified last spring and now is about the time it could start to show up if you are going to see it. The wordpress link below has a good picture.
I asked permission to pass on her information and she said yes, so here is what she had posted to an email group I subscribe to: >>>>>

Last spring, a lovely red but devastating, new leaf beetle invaded Bellevue.
This invasive species was reported to the WSU Plant Diagnostic Laboratory and sent to the Washington State Department of Agriculture by an alert citizen. This beetle is known from Europe and Turkey and may be Mediterranean in origin. It has been restricted to seven northeast coastal states since the early 1990s, but until last spring was not recorded anywhere west of those states. It has overwintered successfully at both locations in Bellevue. The two reporting households are two miles apart and neighbors in the north location also have seen the beetles on their plants.

The beetles are reported to be strong fliers so they could spread quickly. On the upside of this insect, they emit amusing little squeaks, or perhaps a chorus of protest, when handled. Photos and more information can be found at . From there click the link to a more comprehensive fact sheet with more photos by Eric LaGasa, WSDA, and WSU faculty Todd Murray and Jenny Glass.

This beetle represents no threat to most landscape plants as it specifically feeds on lilies (not daylilies) fritillaries and some native species of lily relatives, and less frequently, members of the nightshade family (e.g. potatoes). They will likely have the most impact on the cut flower industry, lily growers, lily exporters, lily hobbyists and possibly some of our related native plants such as Solomon’s seal. Also, the damage from beetles may trigger an increase in pesticide use.

One of our two alert citizens said that the beetles began crawling around his lilies on May 18th, and were already mating and laying eggs; the other citizen says she’s also seen them mating and laying eggs. Both are collecting samples so we can determine what their life cycle will be in our area. In the east, they are reported to have 2 generations per year.

The collected beetles also will be sent to Canadian scientists who are studying the genetics of this beetle to determine if they came from separate populations (and thus different origins), or if they came from the eastern states. They are trying to trace the route of movement of this invasive species.

WSDA is trying to determine just how far this beetle has spread in the Bellevue area. Homeowners or growers should inspect their plants for the beautiful bright red little beetles, or their red eggs. Soon their larvae, which cover themselves with their frass (bug poo) and look like little bags of slime, should also be visible. Feeding damage to lilies includes scraping off the leafy surface or chewing from the edges of leaves. The scraped leaves then wilt or “melt” away.

It may be that this population of the red lily beetle is small enough that with some vigilance the population can be eradicated. It will take the efforts of everyone to delineate this population and stop the spread of this beetle. There is no funding for government intervention.

To help us determine the extent that this beetle has spread, anyone finding the red lily leaf beetle is requested to report it to Eric LaGasa (, phone: 360-902-2063), or Chris Looney, (, phone: 360.902.2042)Washington Department of Agriculture (email:, phone: 360-902-2063), or Sharon J. Collman, WSU Snohomish County Extension (email:, phone:
425-357-6025). Be reassured that this is a safe action with no negative consequences and no blame will be assigned. <<<<<

Wow. Keep your eyes open for these little buggers and we can be good citizen scientists if we find and report.
All the best.

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Green and Yummy

Dust and grime accumulates on the plants’ leaves during our dry season,
coating trees, shrubs and little plants, making them look dull by the end of
summer. Our first serious rain and wind of the fall does a little clean-up; the
combination of rain and wind scour the leaves to reveal amazing variations of
the color green. The wet leaves make all the plants look shiny so that the
greens and plant textures are accentuated for awhile until the wet evaporates
and the brightness of the next sunny break washes out the color. I like to
think the scrubbing improves plants’ photosynthesis and that in addition to
knocking down the dust, the plants get a boost in oxygen production making the
air in the yard, after a windy rainy cleaning, fresh and yummy. Ahhh, deep

This was written in October 2011.

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Soft Air

Here in the Northwest, I think that October is the time when the fall season commitment is clearly expressed. We have such long transitions between seasons it is sometimes hard to tell when the season really has changed to the next predominant weather pattern. Yesterday I couldn’t help but think of how “soft” and gray the air had become and how this is the feeling I experience when I am in places like the Olympic Forest. I think the “soft” feeling comes from the sun being filtered through thick clouds or thick trees, from rain fall trajectory being interrupted by numerous leaf surfaces and from the quieting effect of leaves coated with wet. I like how the moss “greens-up” this time of year and how the promise of our rainy season allows my native plants to grow abundant roots for their best establishment over the winter. The “soft” feels like the transition to the quiet season of winter preparation when the native plants ready themselves to provide food abundance for all the little native critters.

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Robin Crowd

Yesterday afternoon a little crowd of robins made one of their regular foraging visits to our front yard and bird baths; they usually come through to feed and squabble in the baths in the afternoon. I have been building the “forest floor” of our yard for years and now it is thick, soft and healthy with lots of little bugs that break down the debris. The robins send hours bouncing forward, tossing the duff and gobbling down the insects they find. Then they take turns bathing in the bird baths. Some of them can be such little hogs about staying in a bath and chasing away any challengers. There were two that would stand face to face with their beaks open in threat toward each other, but neither would budge. Flickers and chickadees always come along with the robin crowd so it is interesting to watch what they do on the edges of the robin activity.

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Forest Floor

Even though our city Yard is blessed with 14 mature cedar trees, it has been many decades since this area was what one might call a forest. I once spent some time in 1979, while looking to purchase my first house, with an 80 year old real estate man. He talked and explained at length about how he remembered the Northeast area of Seattle as a forest and all the little cottages along Lake Washington as summer season get-a-ways on the lake for Seattle families. The house in this Yard was built around 1940 so maybe it was more of a forest before that. As part of my transitioning this little chunk-of-heaven to a Yard devoted to native critters through gardening with native plants, I began to replace alien plants with natives that would like the acidic soil produced by the big cedars. I started with sword ferns, hardtack, beaked hazel nut and other easy natives to get started. Then, after removing all remnants of unproductive lawn we put all the patio sweepings, some Booster Blend from Cedar Grove (not too much) and all the cedar tree fall-out back on the ground under the cedar trees. Over time there are areas that have gotten thick with the duff of native plant debris and the little things that decompose the plant material. These areas are some birds’ grocery store, because they  provide the high quality protein of insects and worms for making eggs and healthy new baby birds. Here in our Yard, the robins and crows are the best birds to watch for their ground feeding behavior; the crows, in twos or threes, are studied and careful while the robins, in groups of five to seven or more, seem a little frenzied.